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Posts tagged ‘Sheep’

Let me take you by the hand

Imagine for a moment what it might be like if every single day were just the same as the one before and the ones to come stretching endlessly ahead taunting with their refusal to give any hope.  No light at the end of the tunnel,  treated like an object to be scuttled past hurredly by those who prefer not to be tainted by the invisible plague you so clearly carry.  To have the humiliation of having to beg for the odd coin from those same scurrying strangers.  To have no roof, no bed, no blankets.  To be reliant on a bundle of stinking rags and decaying cardboard to bring some warmth whatever the season and including the biting depths of winter.  To have no clue if the ache in your belly might be assuaged at any point today by some sort of meagre nourishment.  To wear the cloak of invisibility simultaneously with the suit of shame  by the crowds that fix their gaze anywhere but at you, assuming as they do that somehow you deserve to be where you are.  In the gutter.

My friend, actually HB²’s oldest friend, Gee often remarks that we are all of us ever two steps from the gutter.  There but for the grace of something or other.  There we could be.  Gee and I have both faced a future with nothing.  Possessions sold for puny pickings in a seemingly pathetic attempt to keep our battered boats floating.  Both of us fell hard.  At different times and neither knowing the other.  I can assure you it is levelling and I suspect far too many of you have similar stories.

Homelessness is a cause close to my heart and I wanted to do something tangible at Christmas.  Having signed up for the big Christmas Eve surprisingly baudy bash for the old and alone, I was niggled by the notion that what I had intended to do was something of value to those who are sleeping rough.  This city has good systems in place to aid les sans abris (homeless).  Very very good, but there are still those who have no place to go.  So I took the money that I would have spent on presents for the family and I bought the makings of care packages.  I researched the subject thoroughly and some of what I found was quite shocking.  There were several articles that cautioned me against doing what my heart screamed was the right thing for fear of causing offence.  Don’t misunderstand me, I entirely agree that swooping down like an evangelising buzzard wearing a judgemental halo and a self-righteous expression would be offensive,  but given that we are often urged not to give money for fear of perpetuating drugs or alcohol abuse, it begins to feel as though there is a danger that people are being given the ultimate get-out via the interweb, the excuse to do nothing at all.  Being a bolshy bird, I ignored the advice, took note of the various lists that seemed to make sense and sallied forth to the shops to buy what I could afford.  Gloves, socks, chocolate, granola bars, toothpaste and brush, liquid soap, wet wipes, tissues – there was more but I don’t want to bore you with my shopping list.  I wrapped them with the care I would put into any Christmas gift which is not to say they were exactly elegant but that the thought was evident.

On Christmas morning, surprisingly spruce from the night before, The Bean and I set out to the places we knew we would find those whose celebration had not started and was not expected to.  I sat with each in turn, some petted the dog, some were deeply suspicious, some less so.  I talked to them.  I let them talk to me.  We are, after all, simply humans and even though my French can still be less than polished when speaking to strangers, the fact is that decency and kindness disolve barriers.

One of those I sat with, I sit with regularly.  He calls me ‘Princesse’ or rather he mostly calls me Princess, occasionally I am promoted to ‘la reine’ (the Queen).  His story is this: he had it all – wife, children, good job.  He worked very hard at his job and often worked late and away.  She had an affair and asked for a divorce.  He preferred that she keep their house for the sake of his children.  New man moved into his old house and his ex wife and his children had a new life, a life that he didn’t figure in. He began to feel increasingly alienated from his children.  He became depressed and began to drift at work.  He lost his job.  He was unable to pay his ex-wife child support so she stopped him for seeing his children.  He turned to drinking and his alcoholism spiralled out of control.  He spent his rent money on booze and soon he lost his roof.   It’s a simple and achingly familiar tale.  It’s a tale that should resonate with us all because I promise you that only one thread of our fragile lives has to unravel and we can find ourselves sitting next to my friend begging for the money to feed a habit that blanks out the bitterness of reality. I met him once in the local Intermarché buying groceries – he was armed with his food tokens and was horrified to see me.  I passed him by and pretended not to see him out of respect.  This man did not want la princesse to see his circumstances even though he knows full well that I know he doesn’t live in a hunky dory homes and gardens centrefold house and that a roof other than a canopy of stars is an occasional luxury in his life.  Respect.  Along with decency and kindness, respect is the silent gift that we can give to all, no matter what their appearance.

All of those I gave parcels to were happy to receive and happy to chat for a few minutes.  It was the least I could do.  To remember that their faces are the faces of someone’s child, someone’s sibling, someone’s parent perhaps.  Not at all the face of someone who has chosen to be faceless and passed over as we hurry about our frightfully important lives.

I am prompted to write this follow up to my last post by the Weekly Photo Challenge titled ‘A Face In The Crowd’.  The laudable gallery of other entries is here.

The picture was taken on my recent visit to my mother in England.  I generally don’t take pictures of people, in fact I do everything in my power to avoid photographing strangers, feeling as I do that it is an invasion of privacy to snap and post on whatever Social Media forum is the flavour in favour.  Actually in France it is an offence to publish an image of a person without their express permission.   So my picture is a sheepy face in a flock.  He is the odd one out and is standing apart from all the rest.  It seems to fit what I am saying.

IMGP1415PS:  Because there must always be a PS, the title comes from a song that I first heard as a young girl.  It affected me then as it affects me now.  It is touching and too familiar and no matter whether we are talking of London, as Ralph McTell is in the song, though he originally penned it as ‘Streets of Paris’, or another place entirely, the fact is that all these years later the scourge of homelessness has only got worse.  And the very least we can do is to not be arrogant enough to imagine that our fortune is in some way an immunisation, to not judge but rather to be sympathetic and mindful that a kind word, a smile and indeed a coin, even if that coin gets spent on something we disapprove of, is far preferable to turning our stoney faces away and pretending we do not see.  There but for the grace, so my beg is to please – be graceful.

Streets of London

Ralph McTell

Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
With his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
Hand held loosely at his side
Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news

Chorus:

So how can you tell me you’re lonely,
And say for you that the sun don’t shine.
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She’s no time for talking,
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.

Chorus

In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven,
Same old man sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his tea-cup,
Each tea lasts an hour
Then he wanders home alone

Chorus

Have you seen the old man
Outside the Seaman’s Mission
Memory fading with the medal ribbons that he wears
In our winter city,
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn’t care

Chorus

Somewhere That’s Green

The title is a song from Little Shop of Horrors, a stage musical, then a film about a girl in a florist in downtown New York who dreams of a simple life in a Tract House of her own … don’t we all?  In this world we mostly feel that having a place of our own (even if its mortgaged to the hilt) is in some way a security for us, for ours and for their futures.  We feel safer if we own the place than if we rent it.  At the moment H2B and I rent.  We couldn’t honestly ask for more.  Our appartment is in a house, built in the second half of the 19th Century with an important staircase, an even more important front door and high ceilings, the park is green space without the effort of gardening, we have a tiny balcony and our young neighbours are unobtrusive (mostly).  The fêtes and celebrations at the Salle de Fête are fun to watch.  A little noise is a small price to pay for an atmosphere of vibrancy and fun when a birthday, a wedding or a Saints day is celebrated.   We also, in honesty, have the best of both worlds – we have a house in the US which at some stage we will sell and actually we own a small property south of Aurillac of which more later since it has been an epic saga to get to the point we are at.  It is a story all of its own – in fact it has felt like the Odyssey.

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But we do want to own a family house here.  Two Brains will retire and we will live out our lives here.  We want a little land so that we can raise sheep that we milk and make cheese from.  Ideally we would like a south facing slope for vines and certainly I will make compotes and other fruity delights from whatever any trees care to give us.  And clafoutis (I love that word and can’t resist a tenuous opportunity to include it just because I can) and other delights too.  And a potager.  I would like a couple of horses but that will depend on how much land we have – a wish list is just that for the wishing.

For our own reasons we are now in the throws of searching.  And it is an interesting experience.  Remember in a previous blog a lovely elderly fellow in Montboudif (birthplace of Pompidouwappydoo-ooooo) told me not to use Immobiiers because they are all crooks?  He has a point.  Actually I was in the business in the UK and was always at pains to let people know that I was NOT an Estate Agent.  Sadly the reputation of real estate agents the world over is pretty much akin to being a blood relation of Atilla the Hun.  However, we were not prepared for the bizarre fact that if you find a property on the internet here (and it is the way the vast majority of  people search for houses in the modern world), that you will not be able to locate it because the agent will disguise its location for fear that you will strike a deal privately behind his back.  We were equally not prepared for the fact that agents will claim rights to a property that they have simply plagiarised on the net without ever having seen it let alone been through its door.  So we could go to a notaire (the advice of a random Dutch fellow and his wife in our village one Sunday outside the bakery) but to be frank the three D’s (death, debt and divorce) which throw the properties the way of a notaire equally throw up other problems – in France  inheritance laws are complex and a town can sit with a decaying house for years in its centre whilst a notaire goes the legal route of tracking down its heirs.  Even when done, often you find that having fallen in love with a place the notaire must go through a rich and complex dance to ensure that all interested parties are satisfied that you can indeed buy the place.  And once sold to you – all your money transferred you can still wait for months whilst the previous owners (who didn’t actually know they owned the house) empty it of its contents.  Or not.  The strongest of hearts can fail when years of wrangling to even pass go are involved.

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My own advice is to make friends with Maires and Mairies.  They will pretty much always know what is for sale in their commune and will also know who you should talk to, who has a place nearby that might be for sale.  And further than that remember you are in a different country and just because things are done in a different way, it does not make it wrong.  ‘Go with it’ as a wonderful Irish friend long ago advised me (in the context of rearing children) – ‘it’ll be the ride of your life’.  Overall it is about people – people know stuff and people who have lived their lives and whose forebears lived theirs over generations in the same place can be your greatest allies or your worst nightmares.  We met a fellow, English, this time last year.  He had stepped into the hotel we were staying in to take breakfast.  He clearly wanted company because he lept on my English voice and then sounded off for seemingly hours.  He and his partner had bought:  ‘… a big house.  You must know the one – it’s the the biggest in …’  He told us he was struggling with French workmen (but his French was tenuous) and that their new big house would be a triumph.  Not least because it was so cheap to buy.   He also told us that his partner speaks no French and has no intention of learning – she prefers not to understand what people are saying.  We have thought about them on and off since.  Have talked about the idiocy of approaching a new life with no intention of adapting and respecting.  We walked on the plateau above their village at the weekend.  The house is un-touched.  Shutters shut, it looks as though it hasn’t been visited in months.  Presumably work has ceased.  Learn the language, make friends, ask for help.  If you don’t, you will surely fail.

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PS:  In my own chosen area it is true that whole hamlets are dying.  I walk (with The Bean mostly, sometimes with a friend, a relly or my husband) and I see beautiful places simply shut up and left in the hope that someone will happen by.  I hope to begin to educate the owners that without effort they won’t sell, without encouraging a new generation of buyers the places will simply decay and die.  Wish me luck – I am armed only with fervour and enthusiasm and a real belief that this is an area that people would love to raise there own families in …. given that we looked at a house recently in a commune that has fallen to 180 headcount of which 70% are over 70 years old and were told they would greet us (aged 61 and 53 repectively) with open arms as perceived youngsters, I have a little work to do.